I drove up the street to Our Lady of Fatima’s parking lot yesterday to start my afternoon walk because the walkway I usually take to get to the back roads, was too icy. Truth be told, I was tempted to stay home and read my book. Need I say, I’m very grateful I got off the couch. The pictures say it best.
The first snowfall of the season has lifted me into a comforting mood of solitude. A winter wonderland before winter officially begins. An interlude between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A snowstorm that feels like the calm before the storm.
No place to go, no reason to search for one. Books on the table, leftover turkey in the refrigerator, firewood in the wood box, jigsaw puzzle laid out.
No power outage to halt computer messages or the TV from blurting out breaking news. Ah, but I can always push the OFF button for all three-- silence, solitude and simplicity.
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
By Oliver Herford
The turkey is in the oven, cooking away for a 12:30 departure to my niece’s house a half hour away. For the past ten or so years, this has been our contribution to the feast.
Roasting a turkey isn’t really difficult but this year I have kept it especially simple by following two simple steps.
1. I purchased a free-range fresh turkey from Deborah’s Natural Gourmet in West Concord. This turkey was ready for the oven the minute I took the wrapping off. It really didn’t need to be rinsed (but I did); not a feather, film of wax, or chuck of fat needed to be removed. Just wipe it dry, add salt, pepper and a cover of oil, and stuff it.
2. I bought Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Classic Stuffing and followed the recipe: sauté celery and onion in butter, add chicken broth and mix.
I’m particularly content with these preparations. The turkey won’t give off excess fat; it will be carved with ease and be tender and yummy. The stuffing is what my mom used to prepare and everyone loved it.
As I sit here smelling the first fruits of this Thanksgiving contribution, I feel content. Although I want my life to be simple, it isn’t easy to pull it
off. But this morning I did it. This morning I am very grateful that I have kept it simple.
(In case you catch this early, I'll be posting progress as the day goes on.
In Solitude: A philosophical Encounter (Open Court, 1994) Philip Koch claims that although loneliness, isolation, privacy, alienation, and solitude are all states of social disengagement, none of them are the same thing a solitude (p.29). For me, solitude is positive, whereas loneliness, isolation, privacy, and alienation have some negative connotations.
Lately I’ve noticed that all (yes all) of my memories (most of them happy, but even the sad ones) include, and often highlight me in solitude. There may be people involved, but I am alone and content to be so. For example, I loved the twenty-five years I spent teaching kindergarten and first grade; clearly not a solitary job. They consisted of the joyful times with the children, but also times alone in the classroom before and after school hours. Never did I feel lonely, isolated, in need of privacy, or alienated, which to me are negative and suggest a lack inner peace. I could always step out into the hallway to chat with colleagues, which I often did, all the while keeping the sense of solitude that grounded me in peace necessary for that very social activity of teaching.
Busy weekend. Not the usual silence, solitude, or simplicity. Friday I flew to Pittsburgh for a girls weekend with my daughter and granddaughter, who is a freshman at the University of Pittsburg. Beautiful weather for walking around beautiful campuses of Pitt and Carnegie Mellon. Thank goodness I’m not a hermit; I stepped out of my usual quiet, semi-solitary, and relatively simple life for a few active days of conversation, food, and physical activity.
I don’t always want to travel solo, not when I can go with a couple of ‘my favs’—to quote my granddaughter.
On the way home with plenty of time breakfast at the airport.
For five winters (2009-14), beginning about this time in November, I would pack up my few necessities and drive an hour and a half north to the cottage by sea on the Maine coast that I rented for five months. I loved those years, and although they no longer fit into my current life, I do miss them.
As the fall cold and barrenness sets in, I notice that I am carving out moments of cottage days here in my Massachusetts home. I don’t have the view of the ocean, nor the days of complete silence, solitude, and simplicity, but I have that atmosphere much of the time. How grateful I am that the conversation, community, and complexities, rarely stressful. That may sound impossible or even naive, but I am certain it is a goal I should strive for at this time in my life.
Silence, solitude, and simplicity is what you make it; you’ll know it when you’re living it.
Yesterday the dumpster was hauled away. Filled to the top but not overflowing. Good thing, for if stuff flies out on its way to some dump, the company gets fined, and for all I know, we could end up paying it? But that’s not what’s going to happen, nor is it something I’m concerned about.
My concern is that all the stuff/junk/trash—call it what you want, is going to some landfill and will sit there until eternity. What is eternity? That’s a theological question usually discussed in books, theological school and from the pulpit. I like to consider myself a low level consumer, but that dumpster tells me I am fooling myself. The joy of getting rid of stuff has been tempered by the truth that we just moved it out of sight. We paid someone to pass the buck.
How can I cut down on plastic? I wonder if my supermarket will refill the chicken salad container I bring in?
In some respects our life has not been filled with silence, solitude or simplicity this fall. For the past two weeks, the dumpster we rented to get rid of stuff in our attic, garage, and barn, has been sitting in our driveway receiving junk, trash, and past treasures. Thanks to our kids and grandsons the dumpster is full and the lawn raked.
And yet, interspersed with all the activity, there have been intervals of literal silence, solitude, and simplicity. Just knowing that on Thursday all will be hauled away brings a figurative silence, solitude, and simplicity that is profound and lasting.
Today I feel deeply comfortable and at peace in my silence, solitude, and simplicity. But why? I am saddened by the death of Elijah Cummings, and that a dear friend of fifty years in spending his last days at the hospice residence where I used to be the spiritual care counselor. Certainly not a time of joy, but definitely a time of gratitude for friendships and lives well lived.
Maybe, just maybe, we feel deeply comforted and peaceful when we unite with individuals who, having made a positive difference during their earthly years, are now putting an Amen to their lives. At times like this I am reminded that before death there was birth. Maybe, just maybe, my comfort also comes from the news of the joyful birth of a friend’s granddaughter. Birth and death are givens in the human journey; embracing and celebrating both, not as separate events, but as parts of something much bigger than we can explain, is what seems to brings profound comfort and peace.
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